JOHN UPDIKE’S A & P AND JAMES JOYCE’S ARABY John Updike’s A & P and James Joyce’s Araby share many of the same literary traits. The primary focus of the two stories revolves around a young man who is compelled to decipher the different between cruel reality and the fantasies of romance that play in his head. That the man does, indeed, discover the difference is what sets him off into emotional collapse. One of the main similarities between the two stories is the fact that the main character, who is also the protagonist, has built up incredible,yet unrealistic, expectations of women, having focused upon one in particular towards which he places all his unrequited affection. The expectation these men hold when finally face to face with their object of worship (Wells, 1993, p. 127) is what sends the final and crushing blow of reality: The rejection they suffer is far too great for them to bear.
Updike is famous for taking other author’s works and twisting them so that they reflect a more contemporary flavor. While the story remains the same, the climate is singular only to Updike. This is the reason why there are similarities as well as deviations from Joyce’s original piece. Plot, theme and detail are three of the most resembling aspects of the two stories over all other literary components; characteristic of both writers’ works, each rendition offers its own unique perspective upon the young man’s romantic infatuation. Not only are descriptive phrases shared by both stories, but parallels occur with each ending, as well (Doloff 113). What is even more telling of Updike’s imitation of Joyce’s Araby is the fact that the A & P title is hauntingly close in pronunciation to the original story’s title.
The theme of A & P and Araby are so close to each other that the subtle differences might be somewhat imperceptible to the untrained eye. Both stories delve into the unstable psyche of a young man who is faced with one of life’s most difficult lessons: that things are not always as they appear to be. Telling the tale as a way of looking back on his life, the protagonist allows the reader to follow his life’s lessons as they are learned, imparting upon the audience all the emotional pain and suffering endured for each one. The primary focal point is the young man’s love for a completely unattainable girl who unknowingly riles the man into such a sexual and emotional frenzy that he begins to confuse sexual impulses for those of honor and chivalry (Wells, 1993, p. 127).
It is this very situation of self-deception upon which both stories concentrate that brings the young man to his emotional knees as he is forced to compensate for the emptiness and longing in the young boy’s life (Norris 309). As much as Updike’s rendition is different from Joyce’s original work, the two pieces are as closely related as any literary writings can be. Specifically addressing details, it can be argued that Updike missed no opportunity to fashion A & P as much after Araby as possible. For example, one aspect of womanhood that fascinates and intrigues both young men is the whiteness of the girls’ skin. This explicit detail is not to be taken lightly in either piece, for the implication is integral to the other important story elements, particularly as they deal with female obsession. Focusing upon the milky softness and the white curve of her neck(Joyce 32) demonstrates the overwhelming interest Joyce’s protagonist place in the more subtle features; as well, Updike’s character is equally as enthralled by the sensuality of his lady’s long white prima-donna legs (A & P 188).
One considerable difference between Updike’s A & P and Joyce’s Araby is the gap between the young men’s ages, with Updike’s embarking upon his twenties while Joyce’s is of a significantly more tender age. This divergence presents itself as one of the most instrumentally unique aspects separating the two stories, as it establishes a considerable variance between the age groups. The reader is more readily able to accept the fact that the younger man has not yet gained the ability to ascertain the complex differences between love’s reality; on the other hand, it is not as easy to apply this same understanding to Updike’s older character, who should by all rights be significantly more familiar with the ways of the world by that age. The lesson that romance and morality are antithetical, whether learned from haunting celibates or breathed in with the chastising Dublin air, has not been lost on the narrator (Coulthard 97). What does not escape either story, however, is the manner in which the young men are transformed into distracted, agitated, disoriented (Wells, 1993, p. 127) versions of their former selves once they have become focused upon their respective objects of affection. Both have lost sight of what is important within their lives, with the serious work of life (Joyce 32), to see what havoc their passion is wreaking.
It is not important that everyone around them notices the way they have withdrawn from reality; rather, they have both come under a spell of infatuation that pays no mind to anything but their fixations (Wells, 1993). Despite their best efforts, neither young man ultimately wins the heart — or the attention — of his respective love interest, which Updike’s character asserts to be the sad part of the story (192). Their gallant rescue attempts aside, the two men are faced with the grim and shattering reality that the girls have no desire for their company. This particular attention to plot is critical within the two stories, because it demonstrates how despair can be both disheartening and uplifting at the same time. Updike’s character has found himself holding a dollar bill that he obtained from his lady love, to which he inwardly acknowledges it just having come from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever known (193-94).
The gifts each young man offered his love interest are not well received; in fact, it is at this very moment in each story that the reader feels the depths of each character’s despair. While different in origination, the intent was the same, since both young men come from such diverse backgrounds; where Joyce’s Irish boy offers a material gesture, Updike’s American character offers himself as a shield against any further antagonizing his lady has endured. This clearly demonstrates the variance in both materialistic values and the concepts of what is important to each young man. To one, offering something tangible is far more worthwhile than anything else he could present; to the other, however, extending his manliness far better suits his attempts to win the girl’s heart. The story’s closing moral turns on itself by concluding with a parabolic maneuver, by having the narrative consciousness turn itself into an allegorical figure (Norris 309). No matter their efforts, both young men fail miserably in their attempts to woo their respective ladies. The similarities between the two stories with regard to the manner in which each is conveyed to the reader speak of life’s lessons and the sometimes painful road one is required to take in order to gain such experience.
With images of chivalry and romance notwithstanding, both Updike’s A & P and Joyce’s Araby set forth to impart the many trials and tribulations associated with love. Expressions of emotions and thoughts also show parallels, including the ending self-revelation and climax (Doloff 255). Bibliography WORKS CITED Coulthard, A.R. Joyce’s ‘Araby’., The Explicator, vol. 52, (1994) : Winter, pp.97(3).
Doloff, Steven. Aspects of Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ in James Joyce’s ‘Araby’., James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 33, (1995) : Fall, pp. 113(3). Doloff, Steven.
Rousseau and the confessions of ‘Araby’., James Joyce Quarterly, vol.33, (1996) : Winter, pp. 255(4). Joyce, James. Dubliners. (New York : Penguin, 1967). Norris, Margot.
Blind streets and seeing houses: Araby’s dim glass revisited., Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 32, (1995) : Summer, pp. 309(10). Updike, John. A & P.
Pigeon Feathers and Other Stories. (New York : Knopf, 1962). Wells, Walter. John Updike’s ‘A & P’: a return visit to Araby., Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 30, (1993) : Spring, pp. 127(7).